Six games companies are under investigation by the European Commission for potentially breaching European Union antitrust laws in using “geo-blocking practices.”
Valve, Capcom, Bandai Namco, Koch Media, Focus Home, and ZeniMax are the companies being investigated, regarding concerns over the use of game activation keys and whether they break EU competition rules. The Commission states that use of country-specific activation keys may restrict consumers’ ability to buy and use products in other EU countries, a move that could be found to be anti-consumer.
The announcement says the use of “geo-blocking practices” like game activation keys “may amount to a breach of EU competition rules by reducing cross-border competition as a result of restricting so-called ‘parallel trade’ within the Single Market and preventing consumers from buying cheaper games that may be available in other Member States.”
The investigation specifically concerns Steam, Valve’s PC game distribution platform. Capcom, Bandai Namco, Koch, Focus Home, and ZeniMax are involved because of “bilateral agreements” (a type of trade agreement) concluded between them and Valve itself. The European Commission did not say how long the investigation would last, or what any potential penalties would be.
Koch Media is the parent company of Homefront: The Revolution and Saints Row publisher Deep Silver, while ZeniMax is the owner of Fallout and The Elder Scrolls publisher Bethesda. Focus Home publishes the Farming Simulator and Sherlock Holmes series, while Capcom and Bandai Namco are behind Resident Evil and Pac-Man respectively, among more.
ZeniMax was recently involved in a court case with Oculus and the latter’s owner, Facebook. The Fallout parent company sued Oculus, alleging that the virtual reality company stole technology that helped create the Oculus Rift. The court has awarded $500 million to ZeniMax over the dispute.
Disclosure: Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of GameSpot parent company CBS, is a member of the ZeniMax board of directors.